Alaska Airlines announced a drastic plan to slash its January flight schedule by as much as 10% because Omicron-induced staff shortages have become so acute that the Seattle-based airline can no longer run the airline “reliably”.
The carrier said it had faced an “unprecedented” level of staff sick calls in the last few weeks as the highly-transmissible Omicron variant grips the United States.
The busy Christmas and New Year travel period was marred by thousands of flight cancellations which was mainly attributed to staff shortages arising from sick calls.
Alaska Airlines also found itself hit by wintry weather in the North West which snarled operations still further.
“As we have entered 2022, the continued impacts of omicron have been disruptive in all our lives and unprecedented employee sick calls have impacted our ability to operate our airline reliably,” the airline said in a statement on Thursday.
“We’re at our best when we are safe, reliable and caring. And right now, we need to build more reliability back into our operation as we deal with the impacts of omicron and during a time when guests generally fly less,” the statement continued.
“We’ve decided to reduce departures by about 10% through the end of January. This will give us the flexibility and capacity needed to reset while continued flexible travel policies enable guests to adjust their plans accordingly. This will also give us time and space to find our path forward together, with Covid-19 as a continued reality in our business and our world.”
Last week, JetBlue announced plans to cancel a large chunk of scheduled flights over the next few weeks because of the same staffing woes.
The airline said it expected sickness levels to increase over the next few weeks as the Omicron wave peaks.
Delta Air Lines, however, expressed hope that new isolation guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would help alleviate staffing shortages because people who are infected with COVID-19 but who are asymptomatic or whose symptoms are improving now only have to isolate for five days.
The airline has faced down criticism from the Association of Flight Attendants who have accused Delta of risking people’s safety by potentially allowing staff to work while still infectious.
Delta has downplayed those fears and claims Omicron infection clears sooner than previous variants, meaning people are infectious for a shorter period of time.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.